Mateo Falcone

On leav­ing Porto-Vec­chio from the north­west and di­rect­ing his steps to­wards the in­te­rior of the is­land, the trav­eller will no­tice that the land rises rapidly, and after three hours’ walk­ing over tor­tu­ous paths ob­structed by great masses of rock and some­times cut by ravines, he will find him­self on the bor­der of a great mâquis. The mâquis is the do­main of the Cor­si­can shep­herds and of those who are at vari­ance with jus­tice. It must be known that, in order to save him­self the trou­ble of ma­nur­ing his field, the Cor­si­can hus­band­man sets fire to a piece of wood­land. If the flame spread far­ther than is nec­es­sary, so much the worse! In any case he is cer­tain of a good crop from the land fer­til­ized by the ashes of the trees which grow upon it. He gath­ers only the heads of his grain, leav­ing the straw, which it would be un­nec­es­sary labor to cut. In the fol­low­ing spring the roots that have re­mained in the earth with­out being de­stroyed send up their tufts of sprouts, which in a few years reach a height of seven or eight feet. It is this kind of tan­gled thicket that is called a mâquis. They are made up of dif­fer­ent kinds of trees and shrubs, so crowded and min­gled to­gether at the caprice of na­ture that only with an axe in hand can a man open a pas­sage through them, and mâquis are fre­quently seen so thick and bushy that the wild sheep them­selves can­not pen­e­trate them.If you have killed a man, go into the mâquis of Porto-Vec­chio. With a good gun and plenty of pow­der and balls, you can live there in safety. Do not for­get a brown cloak fur­nished with a hood, which will serve you for both cover and mat­tress. The shep­herds will give you chest­nuts, milk and cheese, and you will have noth­ing to fear from jus­tice nor the rel­a­tives of the dead ex­cept when it is nec­es­sary for you to de­scend to the city to re­plen­ish your am­mu­ni­tion.When I was in Cor­sica in 18—, Mateo Fal­cone had his house half a league from this mâquis. He was rich enough for that coun­try, liv­ing in noble style—that is to say, doing noth­ing—on the in­come from his flocks, which the shep­herds, who are a kind of no­mads, lead to pas­ture here and there on the moun­tains. When I saw him, two years after the event that I am about to re­late, he ap­peared to me to be about fifty years old or more. Pic­ture to your­self a man, small but ro­bust, with curly hair, black as jet, an aquiline nose, thin lips, large, rest­less eyes, and a com­plex­ion the color of tanned leather. His skill as a marks­man was con­sid­ered ex­tra­or­di­nary even in his coun­try, where good shots are so com­mon. For ex­am­ple, Mateo would never fire at a sheep with buck­shot; but at a hun­dred and twenty paces, he would drop it with a ball in the head or shoul­der, as he chose. He used his arms as eas­ily at night as dur­ing the day. I was told this feat of his skill, which will, per­haps, seem im­pos­si­ble to those who have not trav­elled in Cor­sica. A lighted can­dle was placed at eighty paces, be­hind a paper trans­parency about the size of a plate. He would take aim, then the can­dle would be ex­tin­guished, and, at the end of a mo­ment, in the most com­plete dark­ness, he would fire and hit the paper three times out of four.With such a tran­scen­dent ac­com­plish­ment, Mateo Fal­cone had ac­quired a great rep­u­ta­tion. He was said to be as good a friend as he was a dan­ger­ous enemy; ac­com­mo­dat­ing and char­i­ta­ble, he lived at peace with all the world in the dis­trict of Porto-Vec­chio. But it is said of him that in Corte, where he had mar­ried his wife, he had dis­em­bar­rassed him­self very vig­or­ously of a rival who was con­sid­ered as re­doubtable in war as in love; at least, a cer­tain gun-shot which sur­prised this rival as he was shav­ing be­fore a lit­tle mir­ror hung in his win­dow was at­trib­uted to Mateo. The af­fair was smoothed over and Mateo was mar­ried. His wife Giuseppa had given him at first three daugh­ters (which in­fu­ri­ated him), and fi­nally a son, whom he named For­tu­nato, and who be­came the hope of his fam­ily, the in­her­i­tor of the name. The daugh­ters were well mar­ried: their fa­ther could count at need on the poignards and car­bines of his sons-in-law. The son was only ten years old, but he al­ready gave promise of fine at­trib­utes.On a cer­tain day in au­tumn, Mateo set out at an early hour with his wife to visit one of his flocks in a clear­ing of the mâquis. The lit­tle For­tu­nato wanted to go with them, but the clear­ing was too far away; more­over, it was nec­es­sary some one should stay to watch the house; there­fore the fa­ther re­fused: it will be seen whether or not he had rea­son to re­pent.He had been gone some hours, and the lit­tle For­tu­nato was tran­quilly stretched out in the sun, look­ing at the blue moun­tains, and think­ing that the next Sun­day he was going to dine in the city with his uncle, the Ca­po­ral [Note: Civic Of­fi­cial], when he was sud­denly in­ter­rupted in his med­i­ta­tions by the fir­ing of a mus­ket. He got up and turned to that side of the plain whence the noise came. Other shots fol­lowed, fired at ir­reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, and each time nearer; at last, in the path which led from the plain to Mateo’s house, ap­peared a man wear­ing the pointed hat of the moun­taineers, bearded, cov­ered with rags, and drag­ging him­self along with dif­fi­culty by the sup­port of his gun. He had just re­ceived a wound in his thigh.This man was an out­law, who, hav­ing gone to the town by night to buy pow­der, had fallen on the way into an am­bus­cade of Cor­si­can light-in­fantry. After a vig­or­ous de­fense he was for­tu­nate in mak­ing his re­treat, closely fol­lowed and fir­ing from rock to rock. But he was only a lit­tle in ad­vance of the sol­diers, and his wound pre­vented him from gain­ing the mâquis be­fore being over­taken.He ap­proached For­tu­nato and said: “You are the son of MateoFal­cone?”—”Yes.””I am Gi­anetto Saupiero. I am fol­lowed by the yel­low-col­lars [Note:Slang for Gen­darmes.]. Hide me, for I can go no far­ther.””And what will my fa­ther say if I hide you with­out his per­mis­sion?””He will say that you have done well.””How do you know?””Hide me quickly; they are com­ing.””Wait till my fa­ther gets back.””How can I wait? Male­dic­tion! They will be here in five min­utes. Come, hide me, or I will kill you.”For­tu­nato an­swered him with the ut­most cool­ness:”Your gun is empty, and there are no more car­tridges in your belt.””I have my stiletto.””But can you run as fast as I can?”He gave a leap and put him­self out of reach.”You are not the son of Mateo Fal­cone! Will you then let me be cap­tured be­fore your house?”The child ap­peared moved.”What will you give me if I hide you?” said he, com­ing nearer.The out­law felt in a leather pocket that hung from his belt, and took out a five-franc piece, which he had doubt­less saved to buy am­mu­ni­tion with. For­tu­nato smiled at the sight of the sil­ver piece; he snatched it, and said to Gi­anetto:”Fear noth­ing.”Im­me­di­ately he made a great hole in a pile of hay that was near the house. Gi­anetto crouched down in it and the child cov­ered him in such a way that he could breathe with­out it being pos­si­ble to sus­pect that the hay con­cealed a man. He bethought him­self fur­ther, and, with the sub­tlety of a tol­er­a­bly in­ge­nious sav­age, placed a cat and her kit­tens on the pile, that it might not ap­pear to have been re­cently dis­turbed. Then, notic­ing the traces of blood on the path near the house, he cov­ered them care­fully with dust, and, that done, he again stretched him­self out in the sun with the great­est tran­quil­lity.A few mo­ments af­ter­wards, six men in brown uni­forms with yel­low col­lars, and com­manded by an Ad­ju­tant, were be­fore Mateo’s door. This Ad­ju­tant was a dis­tant rel­a­tive of Fal­cone’s. (In Cor­sica the de­grees of re­la­tion­ship are fol­lowed much fur­ther than else­where.) His name was Tiodoro Gamba; he was an ac­tive man, much dreaded by the out­laws, sev­eral of whom he had al­ready en­trapped.”Good day, lit­tle cousin,” said he, ap­proach­ing For­tu­nato; “how tall you have grown. Have you seen a man go past here just now?””Oh! I am not yet so tall as you, my cousin,” replied the child with a sim­ple air.”You soon will be. But haven’t you seen a man go by here, tell me?””If I have seen a man go by?””Yes, a man with a pointed hat of black vel­vet, and a vest em­broi­dered with red and yel­low.””A man with a pointed hat, and a vest em­broi­dered with red and yel­low?””Yes, an­swer quickly, and don’t re­peat my ques­tions?””This morn­ing the curé passed be­fore our door on his horse, Piero. He asked me how papa was, and I an­swered him—””Ah, you lit­tle scoundrel, you are play­ing sly! Tell me quickly which wayGi­anetto went? We are look­ing for him, and I am sure he took this path.””Who knows?””Who knows? It is I know that you have seen him.””Can any one see who passes when they are asleep?””You were not asleep, ras­cal; the shoot­ing woke you up.””Then you be­lieve, cousin, that your guns make so much noise? My fa­ther’s car­bine has the ad­van­tage of them.””The devil take you, you cursed lit­tle scape­grace! I am cer­tain that you have seen Gi­anetto. Per­haps, even, you have hid­den him. Come, com­rades, go into the house and see if our man is there. He could only go on one foot, and the knave has too much good sense to try to reach the mâquis limp­ing like that. More­over, the bloody tracks stop here.””And what will papa say?” asked For­tu­nato with a sneer; “what will he say if he knows that his house has been en­tered while he was away?””You ras­cal!” said the Ad­ju­tant, tak­ing him by the ear, “do you know that it only re­mains for me to make you change your tone? Per­haps you will speak dif­fer­ently after I have given you twenty blows with the flat of my sword.”For­tu­nato con­tin­ued to sneer.”My fa­ther is Mateo Fal­cone,” said he with em­pha­sis.”You lit­tle scamp, you know very well that I can carry you off to Corte or to Bas­tia. I will make you lie in a dun­geon, on straw, with your feet in shack­les, and I will have you guil­lotined if you don’t tell me where Gi­anetto is.”The child burst out laugh­ing at this ridicu­lous men­ace. He re­peated:”My fa­ther is Mateo Fal­cone.””Ad­ju­tant,” said one of the sol­diers in a low voice, “let us have no quar­rels with Mateo.”Gamba ap­peared ev­i­dently em­bar­rassed. He spoke in an un­der­tone with the sol­diers who had al­ready vis­ited the house. This was not a very long op­er­a­tion, for the cabin of a Cor­si­can con­sists only of a sin­gle square room, fur­nished with a table, some benches, chests, house­keep­ing uten­sils and those of the chase. In the mean­time, lit­tle For­tu­nato pet­ted his cat and seemed to take a wicked en­joy­ment in the con­fu­sion of the sol­diers and of his cousin.One of the men ap­proached the pile of hay. He saw the cat, and gave the pile a care­less thrust with his bay­o­net, shrug­ging his shoul­ders as if he felt that his pre­cau­tion was ridicu­lous. Noth­ing moved; the boy’s face be­trayed not the slight­est emo­tion.The Ad­ju­tant and his troop were curs­ing their luck. Al­ready they were look­ing in the di­rec­tion of the plain, as if dis­posed to re­turn by the way they had come, when their chief, con­vinced that men­aces would pro­duce no im­pres­sion on Fal­cone’s son, de­ter­mined to make a last ef­fort, and try the ef­fect of ca­resses and pre­sents.”My lit­tle cousin,” said he, “you are a very wide-awake lit­tle fel­low. You will get along. But you are play­ing a naughty game with me; and if I wasn’t afraid of mak­ing trou­ble for my cousin, Mateo, the devil take me! but I would carry you off with me.””Bah!””But when my cousin comes back I shall tell him about this, and he will whip you till the blood comes for hav­ing told such lies.””You don’t say so!””You will see. But hold on!—be a good boy and I will give you some­thing.””Cousin, let me give you some ad­vice: if you wait much longer Gi­anetto will be in the mâquis and it will take a smarter man than you to fol­low him.”The Ad­ju­tant took from his pocket a sil­ver watch worth about ten crowns, and notic­ing that For­tu­nato’s eyes sparkled at the sight of it, said, hold­ing the watch by the end; of its steel chain:”Ras­cal! you would like to have such a watch as that hung around your neck, wouldn’t you, and to walk in the streets of Porto-Vec­chio proud as a pea­cock? Peo­ple would ask you what time it was, and you would say: ‘Look at my watch.'””When I am grown up, my uncle, the Ca­po­ral, will give me a watch.””Yes; but your uncle’s lit­tle boy has one al­ready; not so fine as this ei­ther. But then, he is younger than you.”The child sighed.”Well! Would you like this watch, lit­tle cousin?”For­tu­nato, cast­ing side­long glances at the watch, re­sem­bled a cat that has been given a whole chicken. It feels that it is being made sport of, and does not dare to use its claws; from time to time it turns its eyes away so as not to be tempted, lick­ing its jaws all the while, and has the ap­pear­ance of say­ing to its mas­ter, “How cruel your joke is!”How­ever, the Ad­ju­tant seemed in earnest in of­fer­ing his watch. For­tu­nato did not reach out his hand for it, but said with a bit­ter smile:”Why do you make fun of me?””Good God! I am not mak­ing fun of you. Only tell me where Gi­anetto is and the watch is yours.”For­tu­nato smiled in­cred­u­lously, and fix­ing his black eyes on those of theAd­ju­tant tried to read there the faith he ought to have had in his words.”May I lose my epaulettes,” cried the Ad­ju­tant, “if I do not give you the watch on this con­di­tion. These com­rades are wit­nesses; I can not deny it.”While speak­ing he grad­u­ally held the watch nearer till it al­most touched the child’s pale face, which plainly showed the strug­gle that was going on in his soul be­tween cov­etous­ness and re­spect for hos­pi­tal­ity. His breast swelled with emo­tion; he seemed about to suf­fo­cate. Mean­while the watch was slowly sway­ing and turn­ing, some­times brush­ing against his cheek. Fi­nally, his right hand was grad­u­ally stretched to­ward it; the ends of his fin­gers touched it; then its whole weight was in his hand, the Ad­ju­tant still keep­ing hold of the chain. The face was light blue; the cases newly bur­nished. In the sun­light it seemed to be all on fire. The temp­ta­tion was too great. For­tu­nato raised his left hand and pointed over his shoul­der with his thumb at the hay against which he was re­clin­ing. The Ad­ju­tant un­der­stood him at once. He dropped the end of the chain and For­tu­nato felt him­self the sole pos­ses­sor of the watch. He sprang up with the agility of a deer and stood ten feet from the pile, which the sol­diers began at once to over­turn.There was a move­ment in the hay, and a bloody man with a poignard in his hand ap­peared. He tried to rise to his feet, but his stiff­ened leg would not per­mit it and he fell. The Ad­ju­tant at once grap­pled with him and took away his stiletto. He was im­me­di­ately se­cured, notwith­stand­ing his re­sis­tance.Gi­anetto, lying on the earth and bound like a fagot, turned his head to­wards For­tu­nato, who had ap­proached.”Son of—!” said he, with more con­tempt than anger.The child threw him the sil­ver piece which he had re­ceived, feel­ing that he no longer de­served it; but the out­law paid no at­ten­tion to the move­ment, and with great cool­ness said to the Ad­ju­tant:”My dear Gamba, I can­not walk; you will be obliged to carry me to the city.””Just now you could run faster than a buck,” an­swered the cruel cap­tor; “but be at rest. I am so pleased to have you that I would carry you a league on my back with­out fa­tigue. Be­sides, com­rade, we are going to make a lit­ter for you with your cloak and some branches, and at the Cre­spoli farm we shall find horses.””Good,” said the pris­oner, “You will also put a lit­tle straw on your lit­ter that I may be more com­fort­able.”While some of the sol­diers were oc­cu­pied in mak­ing a kind of stretcher out of some chest­nut boughs and the rest were dress­ing Gi­anetto’s wound, Mateo Fal­cone and his wife sud­denly ap­peared at a turn in the path that led to the mâquis. The woman was stag­ger­ing under the weight of an enor­mous sack of chest­nuts, while her hus­band was saun­ter­ing along, car­ry­ing one gun in his hands, while an­other was slung across his shoul­ders, for it is un­wor­thy of a man to carry other bur­dens than his arms.At the sight of the sol­diers Mateo’s first thought was that they had come to ar­rest him. But why this thought? Had he then some quar­rels with jus­tice? No. He en­joyed a good rep­u­ta­tion. He was said to have a par­tic­u­larly good name, but he was a Cor­si­can and a high­lander, and there are few Cor­si­can high­landers who, in scru­ti­niz­ing their mem­ory, can not find some pec­ca­dillo, such as a gun-shot, dag­ger-thrust, or sim­i­lar tri­fles. Mateo more than oth­ers had a clear con­science; for more than ten years he had not pointed his car­bine at a man, but he was al­ways pru­dent, and put him­self into a po­si­tion to make a good de­fense if nec­es­sary. “Wife,” said he to Giuseppa, “put down the sack and hold your­self ready.”She obeyed at once. He gave her the gun that was slung across his shoul­ders, which would have both­ered him, and, cock­ing the one he held in his hands, ad­vanced slowly to­wards the house, walk­ing among the trees that bor­dered the road, ready at the least hos­tile demon­stra­tion, to hide be­hind the largest, whence he could fire from under cover. His wife fol­lowed closely be­hind, hold­ing his re­serve weapon and his car­tridge-box. The duty of a good house­keeper, in case of a fight, is to load her hus­band’s car­bines.On the other side the Ad­ju­tant was greatly trou­bled to see Mateo ad­vance in this man­ner, with cau­tious steps, his car­bine raised, and his fin­ger on the trig­ger.”If by chance,” thought he, “Mateo should be re­lated to Gi­anetto, or if he should be his friend and wish to de­fend him, the con­tents of his two guns would ar­rive amongst us as cer­tainly as a let­ter in the post; and if he should see me, notwith­stand­ing the re­la­tion­ship!”In this per­plex­ity he took a bold step. It was to ad­vance alone to­wards Mateo and tell him of the af­fair while ac­cost­ing him as an old ac­quain­tance, but the short space that sep­a­rated him from Mateo seemed ter­ri­bly long.”Hello! old com­rade,” cried he. “How do you do, my good fel­low? It is I,Gamba, your cousin.”With­out an­swer­ing a word, Mateo stopped, and in pro­por­tion as the other spoke, slowly raised the muz­zle of his gun so that it was point­ing up­ward when the Ad­ju­tant joined him.”Good-day, brother,” said the Ad­ju­tant, hold­ing out his hand. “It is a long time since I have seen you.””Good-day, brother.””I stopped while pass­ing, to say good-day to you and to cousin Pepa here. We have had a long jour­ney to-day, but have no rea­son to com­plain, for we have cap­tured a fa­mous prize. We have just seized Gi­anetto Saupiero.””God be praised!” cried Giuseppa. “He stole a milch goat from us last week.”These words re­as­sured Gamba.”Poor devil!” said Mateo, “he was hun­gry.””The vil­lain fought like a lion,” con­tin­ued the Ad­ju­tant, a lit­tlemor­ti­fied. “He killed one of my sol­diers, and not con­tent with that, brokeCa­po­ral Chardon’s arm; but that mat­ters lit­tle, he is only a French­man.Then, too, he was so well hid­den that the devil couldn’t have found him.With­out my lit­tle cousin, For­tu­nato, I should never have dis­cov­ered him.””For­tu­nato!” cried Mateo.”For­tu­nato!” re­peated Giuseppa.”Yes, Gi­anetto was hid­den under the hay-pile yon­der, but my lit­tle cousin showed me the trick. I shall tell his uncle, the Ca­po­ral, that he may send him a fine pre­sent for his trou­ble. Both his name and yours will be in the re­port that I shall send to the At­tor­ney-gen­eral.””Male­dic­tion!” said Mateo in a low voice.They had re­joined the de­tach­ment. Gi­anetto was al­ready lying on the lit­ter ready to set out. When he saw Mateo and Gamba in com­pany he smiled a strange smile, then, turn­ing his head to­wards the door of the house, he spat on the sill, say­ing:”House of a trai­tor.”Only a man de­ter­mined to die would dare pro­nounce the word trai­tor to Fal­cone. A good blow with the stiletto, which there would be no need of re­peat­ing, would have im­me­di­ately paid the in­sult. How­ever, Mateo made no other move­ment than to place his hand on his fore­head like a man who is dazed.For­tu­nato had gone into the house when his fa­ther ar­rived, but now he reap­peared with a bowl of milk which he handed with down­cast eyes to Gi­anetto.”Get away from me!” cried the out­law, in a loud voice. Then, turn­ing to one of the sol­diers, he said:”Com­rade, give me a drink.”The sol­dier placed his gourd in his hands, and the pris­oner drank the water handed to him by a man with whom he had just ex­changed bul­lets. He then asked them to tie his hands across his breast in­stead of be­hind his back.”I like,” said he, “to lie at my ease.”They has­tened to sat­isfy him; then the Ad­ju­tant gave the sig­nal to start, said adieu to Mateo, who did not re­spond, and de­scended with rapid steps to­wards the plain.Nearly ten min­utes elapsed be­fore Mateo spoke. The child looked with rest­less eyes, now at his mother, now at his fa­ther, who was lean­ing on his gun and gaz­ing at him with an ex­pres­sion of con­cen­trated rage.”You begin well,” said Mateo at last with a calm voice, but fright­ful to one who knew the man.”Oh, fa­ther!” cried the boy, burst­ing into tears, and mak­ing a for­ward move­ment as if to throw him­self on his knees. But Mateo cried, “Away from me!”The lit­tle fel­low stopped and sobbed, im­mov­able, a few feet from his fa­ther.Giuseppa drew near. She had just dis­cov­ered the watch-chain, the end of which was hang­ing out of For­tu­nato’s jacket.”Who gave you that watch?” de­manded she in a se­vere tone.”My cousin, the Ad­ju­tant.”Fal­cone seized the watch and smashed it in a thou­sand pieces against a rock.”Wife,” said he, “is this my child?”Giuseppa’s cheeks turned a brick-red.”What are you say­ing, Mateo? Do you know to whom you speak?””Very well, this child is the first of his race to com­mit trea­son.”For­tu­nato’s sobs and gasps re­dou­bled as Fal­cone kept his lynx-eyes upon him. Then he struck the earth with his gun-stock, shoul­dered the weapon, and turned in the di­rec­tion of the mâquis, call­ing to For­tu­nato to fol­low. The boy obeyed. Giuseppa has­tened after Mateo and seized his arm.”He is your son,” said she with a trem­bling voice, fas­ten­ing her black eyes on those of her hus­band to read what was going on in his heart.”Leave me alone,” said Mateo, “I am his fa­ther.”Giuseppa em­braced her son, and burst­ing into tears en­tered the house. She threw her­self on her knees be­fore an image of the Vir­gin and prayed ar­dently. In the mean­while Fal­cone walked some two hun­dred paces along the path and only stopped when he reached a lit­tle ravine which he de­scended. He tried the earth with the butt-end of his car­bine, and found it soft and easy to dig. The place seemed to be con­ve­nient for his de­sign.”For­tu­nato, go close to that big rock there.”The child did as he was com­manded, then he kneeled.”Say your prayers.””Oh, fa­ther, fa­ther, do not kill me!””Say your prayers!” re­peated Mateo in a ter­ri­ble voice.The boy, stam­mer­ing and sob­bing, re­cited the Pater and the Credo. At the end of each prayer the fa­ther loudly an­swered, “Amen!””Are those all the prayers you know?””Oh! fa­ther, I know the Ave Maria and the litany that my aunt taught me.””It is very long, but no mat­ter.”The child fin­ished the litany in a scarcely au­di­ble tone.”Are you fin­ished?””Oh! my fa­ther, have mercy! Par­don me! I will never do so again. I will beg my cousin, the Ca­po­ral, to par­don Gi­anetto.”He was still speak­ing. Mateo raised his gun, and, tak­ing aim, said:”May God par­don you!”The boy made a des­per­ate ef­fort to rise and grasp his fa­ther’s knees, but there was not time. Mateo fired and For­tu­nato fell dead.With­out cast­ing a glance on the body, Mateo re­turned to the house for a spade with which to bury his son. He had gone but a few steps when he met Giuseppa, who, alarmed by the shot, was has­ten­ing hither.”What have you done?” cried she.”Jus­tice.””Where is he?””In the ravine. I am going to bury him. He died a Chris­t­ian. I shall have a mass said for him. Have my son-in-law, Tiodoro Bianchi, sent for to come and live with us.”


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